In retrospect, the paradox of the circumstance was remarkable. While 9News reporter Adam Schrager and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter were holding forth about former Gov. Ralph Carr, the principled politician who resolutely and unwaveringly supported Japanese-Americans during World War II, the world was learning about “Client 9,” otherwise known as the corruption-busting New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, caught up in a prostitution ring.On Monday, Schrager and Ritter drew a crowd of about 40 at the Denver Newspaper Agency headquarters in downtown Denver to talk about the life of the often-forgotten governor of Colorado who put principle and character over popular sentiment of the day. His refusal to condemn Japanese-Americans after the attack on Peal Harbor ultimately likely cost him his political career.
In his recently published book, The Principled Politician: The Ralph Carr Story, Schrager describes Carr’s unwavering defense of Japanese-Americans after the Japanese attack Dec. 7, 1941 on Pearl Harbor.
Anti-Japanese sentiment was intense against Japanese, including American-born citizens of Japanese descent, throughout the United States. Newspapers, including the Denver Post employed the term “Japs” and “yellow devils.”
“Leaders in both the Democrat and Republican parties spoke out against housing any Japanese in Colorado,” Schrager writes. “State legislators wanted Carr to call a special session to deal with this `menace.’ “
The governor of neighboring Kansas at the time was quoted saying, “We don’t want any Japs in our state,” according to Schrager. In Wyoming to the north, the governor noted that, “We don’t like Orientals here” and said that if any Japanese were brought to his state, “There would be Japs hanging from every pine tree.”
“Idaho attorney general Bart Miller said his state wanted to remain pure,” according to Schrager. “We want to keep this a white man’s country.”
Carr was resolute, extending a “hand of friendship to Japanese Americans and those in the United States hoping to become citizens. “We have come to a time that tries men’s souls,” Carr wrote in a note that was published in the Pacific Citizen newspaper, a newspaper serving 15,000 members of the Japanese American Citizens League.
During Monday’s forum, which was moderated by noted Colorado historian Tom Noel, Ritter said he was struck by a reality, that sitting in the governor’s chair, being the final authority, can be a lonely place indeed. And Carr, a Republican, held firm to his core ethical belief of how Japanese-Americans ought to be treated.
“That was my first impression, is what a lonely time it was for him,” said Ritter, a Democrat. “Public sentiment was not with Ralph Carr, but what’s interesting to me is Ralph Carr was right.”
Too few politicians have the courage to forego immediate political gratification and “do the right thing,” Ritter said.
The following year, Carr ran for the United States Senate, and lost one of the closest races in Colorado history to Democratic Sen. Ed C. Johnson. In a year when Republican candidates overwhelmed their Democratic counterparts, “Carr and his supporters determined his standing up for the rights of Japanese-Americans as the cause of his election defeat,” Schrager noted in his book.
“He knew what price he would pay, and he was still willing to pay that price,” Schrager said during Monday’s forum. “Ralph Carr did not retain his office, but Ralph Carr retained his conscience.”
Among the crowd at Monday’s event were several history students, representatives from the Japanese consulate’s office, members of the Colorado Society of Professional Journalists and one of Ritter’s sons.
As it was wrapping up, across the country an event of marked contrast was unfolding: New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who had doggedly pursued corruption on Wall Street and taken up other battles – including against prostitution rings – called a press conference to apologize after he was personally tied to a high-priced prostitution service. Within 48 hours, Spitzer announced his resignation.
Here in Colorado, The Principled Politician: The Ralph Carr Story is listed at number three this week for hardback non-fiction in the Denver Metro area, according to information from the Tattered Cover Book Store, Barnes & Noble in Greenwood Village, Boulder Book Store and Borders Books in Englewood.
Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential and a columnist and contributing editor at The Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org